Posts Tagged ‘Monica Pelfrey’

A Celebration Indeed: Review of Los Angeles Ballet’s Latest

coverI attended LA Ballet’s second weekend of their new ballet Celebration in Redondo Beach last Saturday. This is my sixth LAB performance, though half of them have been The Nutcracker, so it’s extra exciting to see something brand new. I read it would be a combination of George Balanchine and Sonya Tayeh choreography, but that is the extent of my knowledge of what the evening would bring. The program was divided into three pieces, Balanchine bookending Tayeh’s world premiere of My Greatest Fear.

The first piece was entitled Raymonda Variations. Raymonda is a ballet originally staged in Russia at the turn of the century. Balanchine revived the full length ballet in the 1940′s, and extracts of the ballet in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. LAB’s extracts consisted of nine of Balanchine’s staged variations. First, an opening piece with corps de ballet (but some are singled out for solos later) in medium flowing tutus, and introduction to the lead ballerina (Monica Pelfrey) in a blue pancake tutu. LAB has very talented dancers. But what I always notice, if my seats are good enough, is how young they are. It’s wonderful to see such fresh faces on the stage, but it comes at a price. The main weakness that I notice at every show is when there are two or three dancers doing a combination across the stage, it is rarely ever completely synchronized. One dancer is a beat behind, one has her arm too high, or one is noticeably better (which reminds me of recitals with standouts, not professional ballet). That being said, the piece was beautifully staged and many of the dances were wonderfully danced.

Pelfrey performed a pas de deux with Christopher Revels that was beautiful. Balanchine’s choreography is so interesting because you could easily mistake the piece for a classical one staged one hundred years earlier. But the lifts and the holds are unique and modern. Instead of Revels’s hands on Pelfrey’s hips to dip her in an arabesque, he does it one-armed, with his right arm across her waist to reach her right side—and the result is stunning. When dancing a pas de deux, most of the thankless work falls on the male dancer. He is there to make his ballerina look good. So he must be solid in all his holds and catches when she balances, or does turns, so she looks clean and controlled. This couple did look a bit shaky, and when Pelfrey performed solos, she was solid and spot on. So again, I think that Revels is a very young dancer, still learning his footing.

Variation V, danced by Julia Cinquemani, was the standout for me. She was perfect. Also wonderful were Grace McLoughlnin and Isabel Vondermuhll—the first with a hop arabesque finale across the stage that I have never seen before, and the second with an extremely difficult turn combination she pulled off brilliantly. If nothing else, Balanchine challenged his dancers and staged many of these variations to stay on pointe during the turns and combinations, which is harder than it looks. LAB took on the challenge quite well, and while the other two pieces looked very impressive, I would wager that this classical piece was the hardest to dance.

The second piece was a world premiere by So You Think You Can Dance choreographer favorite, Sonya Tayeh. Entitled My Greatest Fear, the piece is plainly about death, which was reveled to us before the curtain was drawn. The men wore only tight black pants, and the women wore black leotards so revealing that only a dancer could pull one off. Maybe it’s my own particular taste, but I really do love modern dance in pointe shoes. Modern dance on its own has a tendency to teeter too closely to performance art at times. But when the choreography is modern dance and the dancers are ballet trained and on pointe, it can be so beautiful and emotional. Such was Tayeh’s piece. It begins with the entire cast frozen on stage before going into frantic movements. Throughout, one can feel the heaviness that seems to be carried around on all of their shoulders, which contrasted with the pairings’ lifts, which looked as light as a feather.

Even with the knowledge that the dances were about fearing death, it was hard not to see them as already dead, in a personal state of purgatory. I was blown away with how beautiful the extensions and lines were, especially with the juxtaposition on how pain and ugliness were emanating beneath the surface. The men especially stood out in this number. Tyler Burkett’s solo was exquisite and the partnering was so solid, it really spotlit just how powerful these dancers can be. Tayeh’s piece closed to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, which was beautifully fitting to the visual of all the dancers joining to slowly wave to the audience, perhaps letting their limb speak for their body as a surrender flag.

To close the evening was Western Symphony, another Balanchine choreographed ballet. Although I knew it was ballet, I definitely felt like I was watching an extremely well danced version of Oklahoma! and the dancers might break into song with The Farmer and the Cowboy Should be Friends at any moment. A cheesy backdrop of an Old West town was the perfect setting for the saloon girls and cowboys to dance in front of, as they sported all the colors of the rainbow. All but one dancer had black tights and dyed black pointe shoes, giving their costumes the absolute musical theater look. Extremely upbeat numbers were fun to watch and you could not help but to smile at the theatricality of it all. It could be because we live in Los Angeles, where everyone is “also an actor,” but I was delightfully impressed with how much character and sass each dancer put into the numbers. Without it, the dances would have fell flat, even if danced perfectly. Which, for the most part, they were. The company seemed confident, as if they were having just as much fun as we were. That is, after you give in to the extreme goofiness of it all, while still realizing you are at the ballet and not watching the barn raising from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I found it to be the parts of a musical I enjoy the most, the dancing. It was a happy way to end the evening, but did not stay with me the next day, like Tayeh’s piece.

- By Deidre Moore

For more information on the Los Angeles Ballet, please visit www.losangelesballet.org. Next in their Season 5 lineup will be Giselle in May.

 

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Los Angeles Ballet Soars into Fifth Season with Sparkling “Nutcracker”

Photo-1-700x554It is all but impossible to conceive of an American holiday season devoid of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. The ubiquitous melodies – blaring in various versions from mall loudspeakers, underscoring TV commercials, accompanying passengers in random office-building elevators throughout the country – are as well-known and popular as “White Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” at this time of year. Yet the ballet was virtually unknown in America until George Balanchine mounted an original production of The Nutcracker for New York City Ballet back in 1954, in an effort to entice a new audience for dance.

Los Angeles Ballet debuted to critical acclaim and audience delight in 2006, with an original staging of The Nutcracker by Artistic Directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary. Considering that the US financial collapse and recession have felled other worthy arts organizations during the years since, the ascendance of a classical ballet company in dance-ingenuous LA is nothing short of miraculous. The LAB audience numbers have increased year after year, with the attendant growth in ticket sales income. Against all odds, this month Los Angeles Ballet offered their sumptuous holiday treat of a Nutcracker to open a landmark fifth season.

This year as always, LAB presented the production in three different locations around LA County: Glendale’s Alex Theatre, UCLA’s Royce Hall, and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center. Because of the crushing schedule of 9 shows in two weeks, nearly all principal and featured roles were double- and triple-cast. I attended performances in all three venues, which meant I was able to witness the excellent contributions of all solo artists. I must say that, for all the glamour and virtuosity of these soloists, the LAB ensemble dancing is where much of the real magic resides.

Over the past few years, I’ve worn out my thesaurus with attempting to adequately praise the extraordinary LAB women’s corps de ballet. Their gorgeous Dance of the Snowflakes at the end of Act I is about as good as it gets, anywhere. The 12 dancers fill the stage with such synchronous perfection that time absolutely seems to stand still. It’s spectacular and moves me to tears. PS – I wasn’t the only spectator surreptitiously dabbing at my eyes at intermission.

The opulence of the costumes by designer Mikael Melbye got the audience’s attention from the get-go. Murmurs of appreciation greeted the 1912-era formal velvets, furs, magnificent hats and coats adorning onstage guests at the Christmas Eve shebang. The seamlessly high caliber of the dancing to come was presaged in a scintillating “Upstairs, Downstairs” tidbit, featuring two amorous maids with two tipsy butlers. Suddenly, the wizardly Drosselmeyer, played by the charismatic Jonathan Sharp, magically appeared with a trunk full of life-sized mechanical dolls. As these dolls began to move, I found myself hyperventilating with hyperbole.

Returning guest artist Sergey Kheylik remains a crowd favorite year after year, his leaps defying gravity in his role of the Russian doll. Katrina Gould radiated charm in a reprise as the Columbine doll, opposite a witty and stylish Tyler Burkett as Harlequin. In other performances, Columbine and Harlequin were danced by newcomers Isabel Vondermuhll, and Aaron Bahadursingh.

Radiant thirteen-year-old Helena Thordal-Christensen danced Clara with purity of line and professional poise, having first come to the role in last year’s production. Already an accomplished actress, she has added depth and nuance to her characterization of a young girl in the first flush of infatuation. New to the role, Mia Katz showed off clean technique, and a fresh and spunky personality. The Nutcracker/Prince was capably danced by Jordan Veit of Pacific Northwest Ballet School’s Professional Division.

Most of the children I interviewed after the show cited the Mouse Battle as the most memorable part of the show. Standouts as the Mouse King were Craig Hall and Christopher Revels, both of whom admirably negotiated the comic elements of the role along with the fierce leaps.

The sublime Monica Pelfrey returned as Marie (Sugarplum Fairy) in the Act II Grand Pas de Deux. Her partner was Zheng Hua Li, imported from China a couple of seasons ago. Li is that most rare of male dancers – the perfect danseur noble. He is tall and elegant, handsome, wonderfully expressive. His dancing displays great beauty of line, musicality and phrasing; his heroic leaps and turns take my breath away. His sheer physical strength and stamina in the lifts and attentive partnering drew cheers from the balletomanes in attendance.

Alternating with Pelfrey as Marie was LAB debut artist Allyssa Bross. Her sparkling personality ingratiated her with the audience no less than her proficiency in the rigors of the choreography. Partnering her, Christopher Revels tears up the stage in a circuit of jumps and turns in which his academic clarity and fullness become charged with a sense of reckless rapture. Christopher revels, indeed. His perfect execution of multiple double cabrioles is seared into my mind’s eye.

Among other highlights was the Waltz of the Flowers by the aforementioned women’s corps de ballet, featuring a shimmering and delicate Grace McLoughlin in her first performances as the Rose. A break-out artist last season in Balanchine’s Kammermusik and in New Wave LA, McLoughlin continues to develop under the inspired guidance of Neary and Christensen. Also dancing the Rose is newcomer Molly Flippen. Both women exhibit lovely extensions and ports des bras, and both dazzle the crowd in a fiendish series of pirouettes and fouettees.

Sergey Kheylik returns in Act II, impossibly airborne in the Russian Trepak. Alternating as his two accomplices in this acrobatic romp were, variously, Tyler Burkett, Aaron Bahadursingh, Craig Hall, Alexandre Scupinari, and Christopher Revels.

Lovely Julia Cinquemani performed a spellbinding Arabian Dance, all liquid extensions and molten sensuality. Sidelined by an injury for a week, Korean ballerina Stephanie Kim made her company debut in the same dance, late in the run. She was magical, sinuous, electrifying throughout the extended pas de deux. Both dancers are partnered with strength and beauty by a majestic Alexander Castillo.

Throughout the production, the entertainment level doesn’t flag for a moment. It’s safe to say that Los Angeles finally is home to the world-class ballet company for which residents have waited for decades.

- By Penny Orloff

Information about upcoming 5th Season LAB productions is available at www.losangelesballet.org.

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